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Replacement Amp

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sonar11

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Replacement Amp

PostMon Nov 15, 2010 3:17 pm

While waiting for my copy of Hauptwerk to arrive in the mail, I've decided to work on my audio system. Current equipment is as follows:
- motu microbook usb sound card (audio out only)
- emu 0404 pci sound card (midi in only; no midi available on the motu)
- mackie 402-VLZ3 pre-amp
- pioneer vsx-d409 receiver / amp
- 2 polk-audio monitor 60 reference speakers

My problem is that I cannot get the system to sound like anything (not just music through hauptwerk, but organ cd's / wav's / mp3's also). It sounds quite harsh, thin, and metallic in the mid to upper range at times. It makes me want to fiddle around with an equalizer (does Hauptwerk have a built in EQ that I don't know about?), but no adjustments I make in something like windows media player (when playing cd's) actually improve the sound. I've gone directly from digital out on the motu to the pioneer (so skipped the pre-amp), but the music just became softer, it had no real effect on the tone / color that I heard. I just replaced the older speakers that I was using (some basic floor speakers) with the 2 brand new reference speakers, and I could defintely tell; music became quite detailed, and some of the background organ noise came through much more clearer (I can definitely recommend these speakers), but the harsh tones are still there.

While complaining to a sales guy in a local home-audio store, I told him what I was up to and what my problem was, and he mentioned that the pioneer was an entry level receiver. Since it's the only device I haven't replaced in my quest to get high quality sound coming from my computer, I'm desperately hoping that a replacement unit will do the trick... but what to replace it with, that is the question.

I'm currently looking at a simple 2 channel amplifier / receiver (don't want to pay for 5+ channel surround sound that I won't use); either an onkyo tx-8255 receiver or a marantz pm5003 integrated amp... I know a lot of people on this forum use active speakers directly into the sound card, but I would prefer to stick with a home-audio setup.

Does anybody have any comments or suggestions of what to replace my pioneer with? Are the 2 models listed above solid offerings, or should I double the budget and move up to something bigger / better etc? My funds are quite limited, but I'd rather wait and save for a better model if that will have a huge increase in quality over the onkyo / marantz / pioneer.
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engrssc

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Re: Replacement Amp

PostMon Nov 15, 2010 4:21 pm

While it's hard to define harshness, one thing to look at is volume levels as in possibly over driving the amp. The word distortion generally describes this condition. Is this harshness condition present in all channels? Have you tried turning down the volume prior to the main power amp, then turning up the volume in the power amp? Can you borrow another amp from a friend or such? There are various types of distortion that can contribute, it's a matter of defining what type and where this may be taking place. Substitution is generally a good way.

Rgds,
Ed
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sonar11

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Re: Replacement Amp

PostMon Nov 15, 2010 6:09 pm

Hi Ed, thanks for the comments...

Right now what I have is the general output set to "0 db", and the various organ samples are set to -10 or even -13. When I nudge these values higher, then I notice popping and crackling.

The amp itself is usually set to -40db, think it goes to about -20 (or -10) max. I do think the entire audio system is straining though; I've fiddled with the various volume levels in the hauptwerk trial, the sample (speaker level? ), the pre-amp, and the pioneer amp, and I'm always trying to nudge the volume higher wherever possible; I'm never lowering the volume anywhere unless I have to due to distortion / popping / cracking etc. Still, with all of that coaxing going on, the system is not all that loud... I would play cd's louder on my home theatre system.

I will try and swap the Pioneer for the Yamaha receiver in my home theatre setup, but I hate to disturb a working / delicate system :)
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sonar11

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Re: Replacement Amp

PostMon Nov 15, 2010 6:22 pm

The digital organ I'm using for midi out also has working native stops. It has 6 channels, at 100 watts per channel, and with the volume slider set to as low as it can go, it will produce louder and cleaner sounds with no distortion at all (compared to what I'm trying to setup now). The digital organ is the exact opposite of "sounding strained", and even turning up the volume higher (like to halfway) will begin to move the hair on my head without any distortion. As far the realism / sample quality... well, it's not bad, but there is a reason I want to use Hauptwerk right? :D Just mentioning that to show what I'm comparing my new audio system with; I don't need the same power coming from the new system, but I definitely need to move past the "sounding strained / harsh" levels.
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mdyde

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Re: Replacement Amp

PostTue Nov 16, 2010 7:28 am

Hello Sonar11,

It might also be worth temporarily comparing audio output via your EMU 0404 and/or your motherboard's onboard audio (if any), just to try to determine whether the MOTU interface is somehow responsible for or affecting the sound colouration you're reporting.

Try playing a given organ music CD through each of them, so that you have a known point of reference.
Best regards, Martin.
Hauptwerk software designer/developer, Milan Digital Audio.
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sonar11

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Re: Replacement Amp

PostTue Nov 16, 2010 2:32 pm

Thanks Martin for your suggestions. The EMU does not put out any sound right now (it never does in windows, and in linux it's dicey; half the time I need to reboot to get the card to work, so it's definitely on the way out) which is why I purchased the MOTU. Compared to the onboard sound, the MOTU is much better.

The best results I've had have been when I temporarily used the yamaha in place of the pioneer, so I think I should probably continue in that direction and just replace the pioneer. Considering that the pioneer is supposed to be entry-level, I may as well replace it anyways to bump that piece up to the same quality as the rest of the system.

I've also noticed that some samples seem to really draw out the worst in the system, while others sound quite decent (more so with the yamaha). And even playing recordings from contrebombarde, some must be recorded in lower quality as the same organ can sound quite different between recordings.

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